Snorkeling vs Scuba Diving – The Definitive Guide

A Marine activity lover confused between both activities? Want to know which one is easier? Where can you snorkel but not scuba dive? What are the differences in both and what gear is required for both? Well, this guide should clear it up and give you some insight into both these recreational activities and make your underwater exploration fun. For a quick preview of the guide, you can check out our quick summary table here.

Snorkeling vs Scuba Diving – The Definitive Guide



Settle Outdoor - Scuba Diving vs Snorkeling - Snorkeling

Snorkeling involves swimming along the surface of the water or very close to the surface.

Snorkelers snorkel in lagoons at coral reef sites typically, which do not have a depth of more than around 60ft usually depending on the location.

This is an adventure that allows you to enjoy the underwater world, while still floating at the surface of the water, while on the other end of the spectrum scuba divers dive into greater depths of the ocean(the maximum depth a recreational scuba diver should encounter according to PADI is 130ft).



Scuba Diving

Settle Outdoor - Scuba Diving vs Snorkeling - Scuba Diving

Scuba diving is essentially an advanced form of snorkeling.

Scuba diving takes place in the depths of the ocean with special equipment and gear like a gas cylinder(contains compressed air) attached to the back allowing you to breathe underwater.

It requires good health, physique, and ability to swim. It does require some training and certification. However, the good news is that this training can take only a day or two of pool or lagoon practice before you can start exploring. There is much more effort involved in becoming a scuba diver as you need to maintain equipment, fitness, and certifications.




Snorkeling is an awesome way to explore the ocean and only requires the ability to float and to know how to swimming is not essential.

Settle Outdoor - Scuba Diving vs Snorkeling - Parts of a Snorkel
Parts of a Snorkel


The source of oxygen would be a mask with a breathing pipe(snorkel) that stays above the water surface for air intake connected to your mouth via a mouthpiece.

No training or certification is required. One requires minimal gear mentioned below and the whole activity depends on your body’s muscles to move smoothly throughout the vast streams or oceans.

Should you know how to swim to snorkel?

Not really, but since the depth of a snorkeling site could go up to about 60ft, you should just know how to keep afloat.

All you need is to keep pointing in the direction you want to move while moving your legs in an up and down fashion in order to move forward. Although, wearing buoyancy jackets can help with keeping afloat easily as well.

Flutter kicks

So, you don’t really have to worry about knowing how to swim as long as you can stretch yourself horizontally in the water and keep those flutter kicks going like this.

Scuba Diving

Scuba Diving is awesome because it entails total immersion into the ocean. It is 360 degrees of pure freedom and it allows you to go deeper than snorkelers with a supply of compressed air carried on your back.




The gear required for snorkeling is as follows:

  • Mask – to see the wonders of the underwater world and protect water from entering your eyes
  • Fins – to convert your leg movements(flutter kicks) into energy to propel forward in the waters
  • Snorkel – allowing you to submerge partially, still seeing the underwater wonders, while still being able to breathe.

You place the snorkel’s mouthpiece inside your mouth, strap the mask on and put your face in the water. Stretching out horizontally, the fins channel the momentum from your powerful leg muscles to wade your body smoothly through the water.

Scuba Diving

Settle Outdoor - Scuba Diving vs Snorkeling - Gear required for Scuba Diving
Gear required for Scuba Diving

Scuba Diving requires a lot of gear and accessories as covered below:

  • Mask -to see the wonders of the underwater world and protect water from entering your eyes
  • Fins – Propel movement
  • Wetsuit – to keep your body temperature warm in cold waters(comes in different thicknesses depending on how cold the water is)
  • Buoyancy Control Device- A device used to inflate or deflate your vest depending on whether you want to ascend or descend in the water.
  • Regulator – regulates pressurized breathing gas and converts it to an ambient pressure suitable for diving
  • Depth Guage – to monitor the depth of oneself in the water body
  • Air Gauge – Monitors how much air is left in the tank.
  • Mouthpiece – for breathing


Well, both activities provide a sense of adventure and involve exploration yet are different in their nature and depending on what one wants to achieve with the activity the advantages can be categorized as follows:


  • No Training / Certification required

Snorkeling only requires the ability to float as mentioned above. Anybody can become a pro after a single session.

  • Snorkeling is for anyone

Regardless of one’s fitness level (unlike scuba diving), anybody can snorkel. Only the ability to float is required in snorkeling.

  • Not Risky

Unlike Scuba Diving, your life is not dependant on a heavy oxygen tank that you are carrying and there is no risk of decompression sickness. Although the risk of pendulum breathing exists, it can be countered by taking breaks in between long sessions of snorkeling with the mouthpiece of the snorkel outside your mouth.

  • No Investment Required

You do not require any training, certification or much equipment for snorkeling making it an easy to pursue activity.

Scuba Diving

  • 3D View

Snorkeling provides a 2D view as one stays at the surface of the water whereas Scuba Diving provides a total and immersed 3D view as one dives into the sea, where you can observe sea creatures and coral reefs as they are.

  • Rough Water

Scuba Diving is better than Snorkeling in the sense, that the rough water surface conditions do not have an impact on the diver. Once the scuba diver is below a depth of 20-25 meters, they do not have any effect and one can scuba dive easily. Although Scuba Diving is influenced by the strength and direction of the traveling water currents.



  • Salty Water

Don’t like salty water in your mouth? Err… Well get ready for a salty experience, as it common due to rough waves forcing salty water down the pipe and it is an unpleasant experience for many. However, you can get a dry top snorkel to eliminate this issue.

  • Regulator

As mentioned above that snorkeling is susceptible to the rough surface water conditions compared to using a regulator during scuba diving which can be much convenient.

  • Depth is an issue

The length of the snorkel restricts your freedom. You cannot go lower than the length of it, thus forcing water down the pipe and leaving you breathless, but you do get to see the animals anyways that come to the surface to breathe like turtles and dolphins, so its not quite a disadvantage.

Scuba Diving

  • Divers Disease

Its not actually a disease and there is no need to be alarmed or afraid. In simple terms, it is decompression sickness. Read more about it here.

  • Asthma

Scuba Diving maybe dangerous or even hazardous as divers breathe compressed air, which has a much denser surface and takes more effort to breathe. Once you reach depth, the effort it takes to breathe can be compared to sucking honey through a straw. Read more here and it is always better to get professional medical advice before heading out on an adventure.

  • Taste of Compressed Air

If you are a beginner, you might not like the taste of compressed air. This is because breathing gases (either Trimix or Heliox or Nitrox) contain a different blend of gases other than what we breathe from the natural atmosphere, thus giving a different taste.

  • Investment Required

Because of the necessary training, required in the form gear and certification, there is more investment required in terms of both time and money as resources, but once a diver becomes certified, we believe that the payoff is great as well. Here is a great course on Scuba Diving that you can review for free.


Overall, it depends on the advantages and disadvantages laid out and what appeals to you. Based on the advantages if you like snorkeling, you should go for it and vice versa for snorkeling.  Should you give up snorkeling once you have mastered it? Well it depends, the intention of this comparison is to give clarity and encourage snorkelers to try diving who haven’t yet or are unsure of what scuba diving is.

We have compiled the differences in the table below, allowing you to judge which sport you would like to give a try first, our recommendation would be to start with the basics of snorkeling.

This table should clear your doubts about both experiences.

ActivitySnorkelingScuba Diving
DefinitionSnorkeling involves swimming along the surface of the water or very close to the surface.Scuba diving takes place in the middle or sometimes depths of the ocean with special equipment and gear like a gas cylinder attached to the back allowing you to breathe underwater.
DepthLimited to the length of your snorkelUnlimited, can go as far as the depth of the ocean. (Be sure to check your air gauge before that!)
BreathingNeed to hold breath to swim under the surface of the water.Can stay under water longer as one does not need to hold ones breath.
Difficultly LevelEasy, anybody can become a pro after a sessionRequires effort and proper practice
TechniqueOnly the ability to float is required.Allows you to go deeper than snorkelers with a a air tanks carried on your back.
CertificationNot RequiredRequired
Gear Mask
Bouoyancy Control Device
Depth Guage
Air Gauge
AdvantagesBiggest Advantage, anyone an everyone can snorkel without training or certificationGetting to experience Marine Life in a fully immersed 3D view.
DisadvantagesPendulum Breathing & Greatest danger is not being spotted by jet skis & crafts, as a diver is often submerged under water with only a tube sticking out of the water. Contact with poisonous coral, dehydration and hyperventilation. Sun burn is also common with long hours.Depends on the immunity of the diver but may include decompression sickness, nitrogen narcosis, oxygen toxicity, refraction and underwater vision.

Comment below and let us know which one you really like and what are some of your favorite destinations to scuba dive or snorkel?

Also, do check out our other great articles and guides. Be sure to signup for our newsletter to get future updates on great guides, and other outdoor inspirations and gear from Settle Outdoor.


Source What Does Scuba Tank Gas Contain
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